Seattle Seahawks star running back Marshawn Lynch is the third-best back in the league behind Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy, and there is no doubt that he’s the focal point of the Seahawks offense. The Seahawks identity as an offense is on the ground, and just about everyone around the league knows it (including Donte Whitner, who even stated before the NFC Championship Game that he wanted the shut down Lynch and try and let Russell Wilson beat him, which was seen by some as a dismissal of Wilson’s ability). The Seahawks ran the ball 509 times compared to 420 pass attempts, with 301 of those carries going to Lynch, who was second in the NFL in carries (only McCoy had more, but I’d say Lynch is more of a workhorse especially in proportion to his team’s total plays).
The New England Patriots came into their game against the Denver Broncos last week with a very impressive power rushing attack led by LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley, as those two powerful backs had a field day the week before against the Indianapolis Colts. However, they ran into a brick wall against the Broncos, as Terrance Knighton finally put himself on the national scale by flat-out dominating the Patriots offensive line (he beat small center Ryan Wendell big-time). The Patriots power-running game was stifled, and their only successful runs were bounces to the outside by Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley.
Not many people focused on the Broncos run defense going into the Patriots game, but their interior run D has been arguably the most impressive in the league through the 2013-14 season. As we pointed out, the Broncos were the best team in the league at defending runs up the middle, as they averaged 2.9 yards per carry. Knighton certainly spearheads their success against inside runs, but it’s an overall team effort with underrated guys like Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan chipping in to make things work.
Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks, though, are a whole different beast on the ground, and there’s no doubt that Pete Carroll wants to run early and often in order to wear down the opposition before pounding them into submission. That was one key theme in the Seahawks win over the San Francisco 49ers, and there’s no doubt that the 49ers defense is deeper and more talented than the Broncos defense right now. The Broncos defense had plenty of depth and talent coming into the season, but both of those have been tested and depleted by major injuries to the likes of Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr., and Rahim Moore. Even though their run defense hasn’t suffered as much as their pass defense, losing the likes of Miller and Kevin Vickerson has made them more vulnerable to wearing down against an opponent as tough as “Skittles” and the ‘Hawks.
Maybe the most pivotal overall matchup next Sunday is Marshawn Lynch vs. the Denver Broncos run defense, because it’s going to be the clear strength of the Seahawks offense going up against the strength of the Broncos defense. And the most pivotal individual matchup in that larger matchup is going to be Max Unger vs. Knighton. Unger is both bigger and better than Wendell, but he didn’t have his best game last week against the 49ers. Knighton is going to give Unger all he can handle, and the Seahawks have to be great at the point of attack in order for the running game to be solid. The key is to win the battle in the middle and allow Lynch to make his cuts and break his tackles.
See, that’s the thing about Lynch, and it’s what should worry the Broncos a whole lot despite their success this season against interior runs; Lynch can break almost any tackle. While his long touchdown run that showcased a couple of his trademark, nasty cuts was his most impressive play last week, there was a two-yard run in which Lynch really impressed me with his also-trademark strength. The man shook off and plowed over the likes of Aldon Smith to turn what should have been a two-yard loss into a two-yard gain, and it’s that strength, explosion, vision, and uncanny open-field speed for a man of his strength that makes him such a matchup nightmare.
Later on today, I’m going to publish a piece about my top five MVP candidates for the Super Bowl, and there’s no doubt that Lynch will headline this list. He’s the main reason why the Seahawks were able to defeat the New Orleans Saints and 49ers in the playoffs this year, and he is an absolute monster who can get much more than what the blocking in front of him provides. This game is going to be about how both teams try to set the tone with their respective philosophies, and the success of the Seahawks defense and Lynch’s running will go hand-in-hand as they always have for this franchise.